Virginia Appellate Court Discusses “Last Clear Chance” Doctrine and Contributory Negligence

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a written opinion in an interesting case brought by the surviving family of a man who was killed by a train. The case required the court to discuss the “last clear chance” doctrine and its applicability to cases in which both the accident victim and the defendant may have been negligent. Ultimately, given the specific facts of the case, the court determined that the plaintiff’s case should proceed to trial.

Railroad TracksThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s husband was killed as he was walking next to a set of railroad tracks. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was walking next to the tracks, listening to music on his phone, when a train approached. Evidently, the plaintiff’s husband was unable to hear the approaching train due to the music, and as the train passed him, a part of the train that overhung past the tracks struck the plaintiff’s husband. He was killed instantly.

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that owned the train, as well as the conductor and engineer. She claimed that, notwithstanding any possible negligence of her deceased husband, the defendants were the one with the last opportunity to avoid the collision, but they failed to do so. The trial court disagreed with the plaintiff’s argument and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The Last Clear Chance Doctrine and the Court’s Decision on Appeal

Normally, in Virginia personal injury cases, a plaintiff who is determined to be at all at fault for the accident resulting in his injuries is barred from recovery. However, under the last clear chance doctrine, a limited exception is available. Specifically, the rule allows for a defendant to be held liable when the plaintiff “negligently placed himself in a situation of peril from which he is physically able to remove himself, but is unconscious of his peril,” and the defendant “saw the plaintiff and realized, or ought to have realized, [the plaintiff’s] peril in time to avert the accident by using reasonable care.”

The court determined that the plaintiff’s complaint set forth allegations that, if true, would fit within the last clear chance doctrine. The court acknowledged that normally, when an accident victim is negligent, they cannot recover for their injuries. However, under the last clear chance doctrine, the defendant may be liable if they were able to avoid the accident but failed to do so.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia accident of any kind, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. This may even be the case if you were partially at fault, as long as the other party had an opportunity to avoid the accident. To learn more about Virginia personal injury or wrongful death law and how it may apply to your case, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Virginia personal injury attorney at the law firm of Charles B. Roberts & Associates.

See More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Medical Experts in Virginia Medical Malpractice Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 27, 2017.

Court Determines School’s Efforts to Melt Snow in Parking Lot Did Not Increase the Chance of Student’s Slip-and-Fall Accident, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 6, 2017.